2018 KTM 250SXF FIRST RIDE
The first official 2018 test bike that we have in house is the KTM 250SX-F. It arrived last week when we were in the middle of back-to-back press launches of the Honda CRF450R and the Kawasaki KX250F. That’s turned into the routine from virtually all manufacturers. In the old days, they only had do deal with a half dozen print magazines. Now there are dozens of websites that need access to legitimate technical information about new bikes and moderately changed models. So Honda, Kawasaki and the rest have “press days” where they invite print media, digital media and everyone else to a single demo ride day. For most of the smaller websites and bloggers, that will be the only attention they get all year. Print magazines, most of which have their own digital publications, websites and video programs, generally have further access to test bikes for more thorough testing.
KTM didn’t have a press day for the 250SX-F, which was quietly delivered to our office. Mark Tilley and I both raced the bike last weekend at REM Saturday motocross at Glen Helen. I shot all the action photos of Mark that morning. We’ve done this routine so many times that we can knock out a photo shoot in a couple of hours. The bike isn’t heavily changed for 2018. It only has new suspension settings, different radiator guards, an orange frames and minor details. It was the lightest and fastest 250F of 2017, and the only bike that might stand in its way in the upcoming season is the Honda, which has yet to be revealed.
The things we love about this bike are still great. It’s still 218 pounds without fuel. It still has incredibly good Brembo brakes, an awesome Brembo hydraulic clutch (the video on our website mistakenly said it had a Magura clutch, which comes on the Husky), and the best air fork ever made. We’re still not big fans of the power delivery, which takes too long to get going. The KTM is a top-end bike, and that makes it a little too demanding for novices and beginners. Once it’s moving, though, the bike is a rocket. The dyno chart from our 2017 shootout shows how much of a top end advantage the KTM has. All the bikes will be similar for 2018 except the Honda and perhaps the Kawasaki.
Zero has been plugging away making legitimate electric bikes for a long time now. The FX dual-sport bike is the company’s most dirt-oriented model, and we just got one for testing. This model has a stated range of 82 miles on “eco” mode and takes about 7 hours to charge. Zero has several other models that will go farther and charge more quickly, but this is still the one that suits us best. It doesn’t look much different from the one we tested three years ago, but it’s improved a great deal in suspension and handling.
It’s a really fun bike to ride in places you wouldn’t normally take a motorcycle. The proliferation of electric bicycles have made it a no-no to ride in mountain bike areas, but you can still ride in many places around residential streets and no one will notice. As a side note, we shot the photos in a flood control area where we wouldn’t normally ride dirt bikes. They came out great, but the one above had a surreal look that caused one Instagram user to accuse me of manufacturing the image in Photoshop. I said that was high praise, and he went a bit hostile in response. Social media is a weird world.
We couldn’t resist doing a smokey burnout photo. The bike makes incredible instant torque, especially in “sport” mode. Power isn’t an issue, but weight and suspension travel keep it from being competitive with piston-engine motorcycles in the dirt. Zero could easily address those issues, but is still waiting to see if there’s a market there. Alta is trying to get off the ground with a full-blooded electric dirt bike that carries a price over $14,000. The price for the Zero we have is $10,495, and there’s one with a smaller battery for $8495.
WHEN BAJA TURNED TO 450s
Back in 2002, the Honda CRF450R was newly arrived, but there was no CRF450X. Honda was still racing the XR650R in Baja, where it was perfectly suited. The writing, however, was on the wall. Honda and Johnny Campbell knew that 450s would eventually take over and built the first CRF450 off-road bike with help from Bob Bell at Precision Concepts. Johnny brought it to our shop and let us ride it in February of ’02. It was an amazingly good bike. It had suspension and handling that were far superior to the first generation CRF, even for motocross.
That year, Johnny raced it in Hare and Hounds and Best in the Desert, but the CRF450X was launched in 2004. It was officially an off-road bike, so it wasn’t long before Honda switched its entire Baja program to the 450. Johnny’s ’02 R was the first.
RANDOM HARD DRIVE SEARCH
Remember this bike? This was the extremely rare and beautiful Vertemati 500 from 2001. Very few of them were made. This machine was nothing like an earlier bike by the same name, which eventually was renamed VOR. The story is convoluted, but it involved the Italian Husaberg importer in the ’90s (the Vertemati Brothers) who made a handful of racebikes loosely based on production Husbergs. Joel Smets won the 1995 world championship on such a machine, but the name on the tank said Husaberg, and that prompted the brothers to go into the motorcycle making business. They lost or sold the first company to their partners (that became VOR), but then came back with this machine. It was a work of art, but totally impractical for production and about three years too late for the market.